(Update 1: Adds Beijing statements in last six pars, changes dateline, minor edits)
Beijing/Ho Chi Minh City, Nov 22 (EFE).- United States’ defense secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe discussed bilateral “defense relations and regional and global security issues,” including that of Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific region in Cambodia on Tuesday.
It was the first meeting between the defense chiefs since the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June, before tensions soared between the two major powers in August following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei.
Tuesday’s meeting took place in the city of Siem Reap on the sidelines of the summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministers, to which the US and China were invited.
According to a Pentagon statement, Austin asked Beijing to “refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan” and opposed unilateral changes to the status quo, in line with what has been expressed by senior US officials in recent months.
At the meeting, the Pentagon official reaffirmed the US commitment to the One China policy and stressed the importance of “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait.
Austin also discussed the “importance of substantive dialogue on reducing strategic risk, improving crisis communications, and enhancing operational safety” and raised concerns about “the increasingly dangerous behavior demonstrated by PLA aircraft in the Indo-Pacific region that increases the risk of an accident.”
“The Secretary also affirmed that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” the statement said.
This was the third meeting between senior Chinese and US officials in eight days, after those between China’s President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden at the G20 in Bali, and Xi and US Vice President Kamala Harris at APEC in Bangkok.
On the sidelines of the G20, Biden delivered Xi a message almost identical to that which Austin conveyed to Wei on Tuesday: Washington has not changed its adherence to the One China policy, but opposes any unilateral change in the status quo by either party.
Xi warned Biden that the Taiwan issue is “the first red line that should not be crossed” and assured that he expects the US to “honor its promise” not to support the self-governing island’s independence.
On Tuesday Wei conveyed the same message to Austin, saying “the Taiwan issue is the core of China’s core interests and the first insurmountable red line in Sino-US relations. Taiwan is China’s Taiwan, and resolving the Taiwan issue is the Chinese people’s own business, and no external force has the right to interfere.”
According to China’s defense ministry, Wei also said that Xi and Biden’s G20 meeting “reached a series of important consensuses, which charted the course for the development of China-US relations” but that “the current situation facing China-US relations lies with the US, not China.”
“China attaches great importance to developing relations between the two countries and the two militaries, but the US must respect China’s core interests. It is hoped that the US side will live up to its promises, keep its promises, truly implement the consensus reached by the two heads of state, adopt a rational and pragmatic policy toward China, and push China-US relations back to the track of healthy and stable development,” it added.
Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei was quoted in local media on Tuesday as saying the talks in Cambodia put the two powers on the right track for promoting the relationship between the two militaries to return to a healthy and stable development.
However, Tan also said current China-US relations are not China’s responsibility because the US made “wrong strategic judgments.”
“The US side has continued to virtualize, hollow out, and distort the one-China policy, frequently selling arms to Taiwan, co-training the Taiwan military, and dispatching senior officials (…) Every escalation and breakthrough of the US side on the Taiwan issue will be met with firm and powerful countermeasures and counterattacks from the Chinese side.” EFE